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Twins clinch 6th division title in 9 years

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Jim Thome
Minnesota Twins' Jim Thome rounds the bases after hitting a home run during the second inning of a baseball game against the Cleveland Indians Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2010, in Minneapolis.
AP Photo/Jim Mone

No need for a 163rd game in the AL Central division this year.

      The Minnesota Twins have this baby wrapped up with plenty of time to spare.

      Denard Span's RBI-single highlighted a four-run eighth inning to rally the Twins to a 6-4 victory over the Cleveland Indians on Tuesday night.

      The thrilling, come-from-behind win coupled with the Chicago White Sox's 7-2 loss in Oakland made the Twins the first team in the majors to clinch a division title this season.

      "I'm thinking this may be a good thing for us going forward into the postseason," Span said of clinching with 11 games to go.

      The Twins lost to the White Sox in Game 163 in 2008 to miss out on the postseason, then capped a rally from seven games down in September last year by beating the Detroit Tigers in a one-game playoff to get in. But they didn't have much energy left after the exhausting run and were swept by the Yankees in the first round.

      "I think hopefully this will give us an opportunity to think about the postseason and get ourselves mentally and physically ready," Span said.

      Jim Thome hit a solo homer and Danny Valencia had two hits and an RBI for the Twins, who got manager Ron Gardenhire his 800th career win despite being stymied by Indians starter Fausto Carmona for the first five innings.

      The big lefty gave up the solo homer to Thome in the second inning, but was breezing through the Twins lineup for the second time in his last three starts before running into trouble in the sixth.

      He walked Thome and gave up a single to Delmon Young before Valencia chased him with an RBI single to cut the deficit to 4-2. Carmona gave up two runs and six hits in 5 2-3 innings.

      The Twins trailed the Indians 4-2 in the eighth on Tuesday night. But Young had an RBI-double and pinch-hitter Jose Morales added the game-tying sacrifice fly before Span's single scored Valencia for the lead. Orlando Hudson added an RBI-double to finish off the burst.

      With a day game on Wednesday and the White Sox and A's playing late, the Twins originally planned to go home after the game and save the celebrating for another day. But once they saw the White Sox down 5-2 in the seventh inning, they decided to stick around Target Field and go a little wild.

      "Those guys aren't going to let me go home," Gardenhire said.

      It was the perfect clinching victory for a team that has fought through injuries and come back from deficits all season long.

      Nick Punto was inserted into the lineup 40 minutes before first pitch after starting shortstop J.J. Hardy had a migraine headache and Drew Butera filled in at catcher for Joe Mauer, who missed his second straight game with a sore left knee.

      An MRI revealed no structural damage and the team was considering giving Mauer a cortisone shot, which would keep him out for four or five days.

      It's been that way all season long for the Twins, who have overcome injury after injury during an impressive second-half surge to the top. All-Star closer Joe Nathan was lost for the year in spring training, All-Star first baseman Justin Morneau has been out for more than two months with a concussion and Hardy, second baseman Hudson, right fielder Jason Kubel and starters Scott Baker and Kevin Slowey have all missed big chunks of time with various injuries.

      "It's crazy to think how well we've done in the second half missing all the guys we have," Valencia said.

      Michael Cuddyer moved from right field to first base to fill in for Morneau, Valencia emerged as the everyday third baseman, Matt Capps was acquired as the closer and Brian Duensing moved from the bullpen to the rotation to stabilize that group.

      "We've had some guys step up and help us this year and it happens like that pretty much every year," Gardenhire said. "This organization does a good job of developing guys and getting them ready."

      Justin Masterson (6-13) allowed three runs and three hits in two-thirds of an inning for the Indians.

      Glen Perkins (1-1) pitched one scoreless inning for the win and Capps picked up his 15th save for the Twins and 41st of the year.

      "They're a good team," Indians manager Manny Acta said. "It's not that they win when they have to win. They just win more than any other team in our division because they're good. They're deep and they're good."

      Baker has been bothered by tendinitis in his pitching elbow for most of the second half of the season. He's taken two cortisone shots to try to ease the pain and had not pitched since leaving in the second inning of a start on Sept. 2.

      Gardenhire planned to sprinkle him in down the stretch to give Francisco Liriano, Carl Pavano and Duensing a few extra days' rest before the playoffs begin.

      He was sharp in his return to the mound on Tuesday. He gave up two runs - one earned - and four hits with seven strikeouts and one walk in five innings.

      Travis Hafner and Drew Sutton had two hits and an RBI each for Cleveland.

      NOTES: The Twins had 39,580 fans in attendance on a cool night. The 73rd straight sellout of brand new Target Field put the team over 3 million fans for the second time in team history. ... Thome is the ninth player in league history with 14 seasons of at least 25 home runs. ... Indians SS Asdrubal Cabrera missed the game with a strained left wrist. He was injured on Monday night, but X-rays were negative and he is day-to-day.       

      (Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)